Friday, April 10, 2009


Yesterday's New York Times contains an interesting review of the off-Broadway play Beowulf: A Thousand Years of Baggage. While I'm not exactly a devotee of experimental theatre, the play sounds like a lot of fun to me. I have a feeling that a few of my colleagues may not relish a play poking fun at Beowulf scholars, but I'm of the general opinion that any mention of the poem in popular culture is good news for medievalists.

One small complaint, though: the review refers to the scholars who appear to be the butt of the play's joke as "stuffy academics." It's a cliche, of course; for many people the term "academics" is just naturally preceded by "stuffy." But you know what? Most of my academic friends, maybe especially the medievalists among them, are decidedly non-stuffy. The American Heritage Dictionary defines stuffy as "not receptive to new or unusual ideas and behavior; conventional and narrow-minded." That definition seems to me to be more applicable to the students I teach than to my colleagues, some of whom are pompous and self-interested, yes, but not stuffy.

So I'd like to call for an end to this kind of libelous characterization. Maybe we need to hire a publicist or something. Let's redefine the cliche and be known for what we are: "dorky academics," or "poorly dressed academics," even "boring academics," but not "stuffy academics."

Take that, New York Times.


Matthew Gabriele said...

"socially inadequate" academics? :-)

Prof. de Breeze said...

That's the spirit, Matt! Though personally I prefer "inept" to "inadequate." Sounds less judgmental.

Prof. de Breeze said...

I should point out, in the interest of full disclosure, that I am currently suffering from a mild sinus infection. So technically speaking, I am, today at least, a "stuffy academic." But I think my larger point still holds.

Banana Bag & Bodice said...

Hi there Professor de Breeze. I am the playwright and lyricist for Beowulf - A Thousand Years Of Baggage and I would love for you to attend the production. Our representation of academia in our show is filled with spirit and shows their passion towards the poem, so it surely is a projection by the NY Times critic to label them as "stuffy". I certainly don't see them that way, in fact I think they are potentially "in vogue", and maybe even "hip". But please come and see for yourself. I believe it to be an interesting take on Beowulf and brims with entertainment...and the music is great. I hope you get over your cold.

Prof. de Breeze said...

Your comment has absolutely made my semester, Mr. Craig (if I'm right in assuming that is who you are). The snidefield doesn't usually see comments from successful playwrights. Or even unsuccessful playwrights, for that matter.

I would love to attend a performance, but given the 2000 or so miles which separate me from NYC, it's somewhat unlikely. But here's what I think you should do. Bring the whole company to Kalamazoo, MI, next month for the International Congress on Medieval Studies. You will never find a more engaged (and non-stuffy) audience than the 3000 medievalists who will be there. I promise you'll be a hit.

I'll admit to ulterior motives in making this request. I watched the trailer for your show, and I particularly enjoyed a brief shot of Beowulf physically pulling one of the academics out of the discussion panel. So yeah, I want Beowulf at my session. I bet the Q&A time would have a whole different feel to it.

Kudos to you on keeping the poem alive and doing interesting things with it. And special kudos for the review from the East Bay Express. I'm pretty sure that's the first time any cultural product associated with Beowulf has been described as "fucking awesome." In print, that is.

Thanks again for stopping by.

Banana Bag & Bodice said...

We would LOVE to come to Kalamazoo! That would be so amazing. Unfortunately we don't have the budget right now for such traveling. But hopefully some day we can get the show out your way.
Yes, pulling the academic out of the pit is one of my favorite bits of the show, I feel so powerful when I do that!
Continue enjoying this beautiful poem!

N.E. Brigand said...

It sounds like the play, in which the critics become the monsters, was inspired by at least the title of Tolkien's Beowulf essay.

Beth said...

As a non-academic, I have to comment. CPAs are stuffy. You guys are not. You're just dorks. And some of the ones I really like. :)